Were they ‘spooks’ sitting at the back of the hall?
28 September, 2018 — By John Gulliver
I DON’T know whether spooks spotted me on Friday evening but I went to a meeting on Palestine and Zionism that a former Labour councillor thought could stray into anti-Semitism.
Phil Rosenberg (pictured above, right), a leading figure in the Board of Jewish Deputies, had told the King’s Cross Neighbourhood Forum by email and over the phone that he was concerned about the nature of the meeting and believed they should carefully consider whether it should go ahead.
He appeared to have clashed with the forum’s chief, Councillor Nasim Ali (above left), who told the organisers, the Revolutionary Communist Group, it could be held on condition there would be no “anti-Semitism at the meeting.We do not tolerate any anti-Semitism, Islamophobia racism, homophobia or sexism.” The organisers said they never tolerated “expressions of anti-Semitism at pro-Palestine events,” but would not accept any “restriction” on their right to “characterise the Israeli state as a racist state”.
Excitement rippled through the small hall on the Cromer Street estate in King’s Cross as it filled up with speakers in front of a banner exclaiming that “Zionism is Racism”.
At the start, the chairman pointed out that there were two members of the council’s Prevent department sitting at the back of the hall. Next to me sat a middle-aged man and a woman who smiled awkwardly at the chairman.
Tracing the history of Israel and its roots in the ideology of Zionism, speakers denounced the Labour Party’s definition by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as “censorship” and described the meeting as a “victory” for “open discussion”.
They were frequently interrupted by a man and woman who shouted: “It’s all lies…they are not fascists…we won’t be silenced.” But there was little menace in the atmosphere, though the woman would stand up from time to time and take pictures of the audience. The main heckler was allowed to speak for several minutes, clashing face-to-face with one of the organisers, David Yaffe, who insisted he had the right to speak.
When challenged by a member of the audience the man next to me told the hall he worked for the council and that any questions should be directed to the “communications office” at the Town Hall. He wouldn’t explain to me why he was at the meeting and said his department came under Councillor Jonathon Simpson – later Cllr Simpson emailed me to say the Prevent department came under Councillor Abdul Hai.
Cllr Hai told me the council had a statutory duty to run a Prevent department and that officials attended meetings as observers. In an email he said the man and woman sitting next to me, if officials, had attended on a “personal basis”.
A redoubtable woman, Norma Kitson, sympathetic to the RCG in the 1980s, became well known in London anti-apartheid circles for helping to organise the day-and-night “pickets” outside South Africa House, Trafalgar Square, protesting against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. I often met her outside there. She also ran a pioneering co-operative of typesetters called the Red Lion Setters off Gray’s Inn Road.